Can You Make VR Videos on a Budget?

Here is my dad. Also looking at Gorillas. Honest.

Did you know that a 360 video camera can’t record the kind of stereoscopic footage used in Virtual Reality? You did know that? Oh. Well, I wish someone told me.

All it took to pique my interest in Virtual Reality was a Google cardboard headset and a 360 video of a gorilla (not that gorilla.) I wanted to touch the Gorilla. I think I wanted to ride the gorilla — I wanted more than to just see all of that furry fellow at every angle currently imaginable.

I bought a LG 360 cam for £115 on eBay and decided this would be my start in film-making. I’d join the guardian, who recently published their VR exploration of life in solitary, and the NY Times, with their bevvy of VR content, just oozing from its own dedicated app. Here was my proposed method:

1) Snag a cheap 360 camera off the internet, ignore the fact some VR rigs cost upwards of £15,000 — that surely isn’t a sign I’m out of my depth.

2) Start to film interesting things that benefit from being seen in 360, like the inside of a volcano or up a car exhaust.

3) Edit the footage with the kind of cutting edge techniques I’ll be learning in Adam Tinworth’s multimedia classes.

4)????

5) Profit.

To come full circle (geddit,) back to my original point: you can’t film something with a 360 camera and call it Virtual Reality. Nice try NYT. This is because your run-of-the-mill 360 cam shoots monoscopic video, whereas VR requires stereoscopic video.

The unrefined younger brother to stereoscopic, monoscopic stitches a collage of images around a 360 plane and injects the viewer into the middle. The far more interesting, and typically better looking, stereoscopic video is an attempt to recreate the effect of binocular vision. Here’s a diagram I didn’t make.

The name of the game is depth, and it boils down as such: the greater depth perception you provide your viewer, the deeper they will go in immersing themselves in your content. Deep.

This, kind of depressing, discovery suggested that you can’t really make VR content on a student budget — leaving me with two options.

1) Adapt

I can still shoot 360 video and I intend to.

Facebook and Youtube provide platforms for uploading spherical landscapes and the handy-cam design defining personal 360 video means you can upload on-the-go, not have to worry about metadata stitching, and fill the web with all access images. Every 360 picture is a selfie. Unfortunately.

At the September Hacks/Hackers event, VR pioneer Ed Miller told journalists that they mustn’t poison the well with cheap, throwaway and dull 360 videos.

Despite the generally negative advice, Ed was very encouraging in this tweet, even though he misidentified my camera (humblebrag warning).

So journalists: grab a cheap 360 cam (you can shoot 2K video for £100, it’s amazing) and get filming. Keep your content fresh, make sure your story benefits from a 360 spin, edit away and see what works (no one really knows, don’t listen to me.) We’ll be blazing the trail with regards to what works and what doesn’t, because it’s such new and fertile territory.

2) Buy another camera, tape the two together, pray that works.

I’m going to try both.

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